Rabies is a deadly disease that kills between 25,000 and 60,000 people worldwide each year. An additional 15 million people receive post-bite vaccinations, undoubtedly preventing hundreds of thousands of additional deaths. The availability of post-exposure vaccination in the United States makes rabies deaths in the US very rare. About 50,000 people in the US receive post-exposure vaccination annually, preventing them from developing rabies after an exposure.
Once a person or animal becomes sick with rabies, it is almost always fatal. This means the best way to combat rabies is with prevention. Fortunately, the post-exposure vaccines are very effective. These special shots for people who have contact with a rabid animal keep them from getting sick as long as the shots are given within days of the exposure. There are also very effective vaccines to prevent pets from getting rabies. These preventative vaccines for pets are given on an annual schedule. When pets miss a scheduled vaccine, they may need to be quarantined, or even euthanized after contact with a rabid animal. In the attached video, the cherished family pet, a Chihuahua named “Bella” had to be put to sleep after contact with a rabid bat.
Finding a single bat does not automatically mean there is a colony in the home’s attic or walls, but it is important to rule it out. If a single bat is found, a bat exclusion contractor should be contacted to conduct a thorough building inspection to identify evidence of a roost. When a roost is found, if the bats have stayed in the walls and never come into the human-occupied spaces of the building, they can generally be safely excluded by installing a one-way valve allowing them to leave but not re-enter. When the bat has had contact with a human or pet, or has been in the human-occupied areas while people slept, it must be sent for rabies testing. If it tests positive for rabies, the humans that may have been exposed must receive shots.
In Illinois, bats are the number one carrier of rabies. Rebecca Fyffe, a wildlife educator with ABC Wildlife explained that the human exposure risk posed by bats, compared to other wildlife, needs to be taken very seriously because, “In Illinois, of the 311 animals that have tested positive for rabies since 2012, 100 percent of them were bats,” Fyffe explained.
All bats are protected in Illinois, however, not all bats are endangered. There are four species of bats on Illinois’ Endangered Species List, but the Little Brown Bat, the species most commonly found in attics and homes, is not one of them. Quite the opposite, the Little Brown Bat is considered abundant in our state.
Bats are an important part of the environment and eat many harmful insects. Bat conservation efforts, such as putting up bat houses and preserving bat habitats, do not pose risk to humans and should be encouraged.
Rebecca Fyffe explained that we do not need to be fearful of bats behaving normally in the wild. Watching bats hunt mosquitos at dusk poses no danger and is a welcome sign of a healthy ecosystem. A bat behaving abnormally, such as fluttering around on the ground, initiating contact with humans, or being carried in a pet’s mouth, is more likely to be sick than those behaving normally. Because bats are Illinois’ number one rabies carrier, with 1 in 1,000 bats having rabies, it is important to avoid physical contact with bats and to submit bats for testing once contact has occurred. “If the specimen has escaped or is not available for rabies testing, public health officials will direct the exposed person to seek shots,” explained Rebecca Fyffe. If the specimen is available for testing, the exposed person can avoid undergoing shots by testing the specimen instead.
In Illinois, Rebecca Fyffe supervises a team of 50 state-certified nuisance wildlife control specialists who are also certified to remediate bat colonies. Her organization, ABC Humane Wildlife Control & Prevention Inc. runs a free 24-hour a day telephone hotline at (847) 870-7175 where callers can have bats captured for testing and have their homes checked for the presence of a colony.
Rebecca Fyffe explains that through a partner nonprofit, she is able to gather grant funding to provide bat control capture and remediation service to those who cannot afford it. In partnership with the nonprofit Wildlife Control Policy Institute, it is ABC Wildlife’s policy to never turn a caller away for inability to pay. One instance of service that the company provided free was when a blind couple woke up with what they thought was a mouse in their bed, but they realized it was a bat when they felt its membranous wings. Rebecca Fyffe received the call from police officers who were standing in the blind couple’s bedroom trying to shoo the bat out the open window. She instructed the officers to close the window instead and she sent her team of biologists to capture the bat. Luckily the bat tested negative and the couple didn’t need to undergo shots. “We’re there for people 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, and if they truly can’t afford service and would otherwise go underserved, we help them first and ask questions later. Working with the Wildlife Control Policy Institute nonprofit has enabled us to donate our service under their grant structure and assist those who needed an emergency responder right away.”
Rabies can be a deadly disease, but we can mitigate the risk of bat-related rabies. We can protect our families by making sure our own animals are kept current on their rabies shots and by having bats that have come in contact with a person tested for rabies. For more information, visit ABC Wildlife’s website at http://abcwildlife.com
In the hopes of helping others in honor of World Rabies Day, a young father in the suburbs of Chicago shares his story about bat colony exclusion.
“My name is Keenan Miller, I am a homeowner in Batavia Illinois. About two months ago, we came home to find a bat in our house. My older son who’s four came downstairs this way. As soon as he walked past me here, I just heard this screeching noise: I didn’t know what it was. I just happened to turn, roll over and there is a bat right here on the carpet now crawling this way back towards the chimney. I heard this ‘thud’ in the fireplace. Then out of the corner of my eye I see something moving up the screen, and it got the top of the screen and before I could run around, grab the broom and try to hit it back in, it started flying around; they just move so fast; and my wife and I were like, ‘get this bat down!’ eventually it rested right next to the TV on the bricks. The next day ABC Wildlife came, checked inside and took the bats away.
[A bat that has been in a room with a sleeping person, an unattended child or an unvaccinated pet needs to be captured and tested for rabies.]
“We didn’t know where the bat was, so there was the possibility that the bat was hanging out somewhere and our son might have come in contact with it as well.
[The family waited to learn if the bat had rabies.]
“I kind of knew when I saw Kane County come up on my phone Tuesday — and they had said they would call me back by Thursday — I knew right then and there was a problem
[Since the bat tested positive for rabies, and the family didn’t know if contact occurred, they needed to assume they were exposed.]
“When we went to the hospital we had just thought that Titus was the only one who would get shots because he may or may not stepped on the bat but they quickly informed us that we all had to get shots. Kids don’t like shots – they’re going to cry – but they will survive.
[The treatment people receive after getting exposure to rabies to prevent them from getting sick is called prophylaxis or PEP.
PEP consists of a dose of immune globulin to jump-start the immune system and four doses of rabies vaccine given over a 14-day period.]
“They’re not like they used to be where people had horror stories of a bunch of shots to the stomach; it’s basically the same as the flu shot.. so you don’t need to be worried because I was too – when I thought he was going to have to get the shots.”
[Current vaccines are relatively painless and are given in your arm. Newer vaccines in use today cause fewer adverse reactions than previously available vaccines.]
“My focus at the time was my son and his well-being. Once I knew that with vaccinations, he’ll be fine, my focus then shifted towards ‘what do we do about the dog?’ We had Bella for about nine years and we had to get rid of her because we weren’t sure whether she was bitten by the rabid bat that was in our house. We couldn’t take the chance on her biting one of our kids or one of the neighboring kids that play with our kids in our backyard all the time. We had to talk with our sons about how Bella was getting sick and Bella didn’t make it.
I actually wear Bella’s collar still on my wrist. Because we had her nine years and she was basically our first kid; she holds a good spot in my heart, my wife’s; both our boys had good times with her.
Stay up on your vaccinations. Rabies shots are once a year. The one time we didn’t take our dog, this happened. The one time you don’t get that vaccination, something like this could happen.
[In Chicago, ABC Wildlife has Wildlife Disease Experts and Bat Colony Exclusion experts on staff to evaluate each case. Even in the middle of the night.]
When we first had moved in, the home inspector suggested we get caps for the chimney because of birds, and I didn’t even think about bats. Talking with ABC Wildlife I actually got way more information than I ever thought I would get: That’s how I learned more about the rabies virus, about bats’ habits, and about how to keep my family safe. Having someone like the ABC Wildlife helpline put a lot of my nervousness to ease, with the explanations you gave me, with just being there to help. It’s really nice knowing that you guys have been in wildlife for over 40 years and that you are such a reputable company. Even now I feel even more at ease that we called you guys first. There are excluders which are one-way doors that the bats can go out of but can’t come back in. There were some small cracks that they’re going to tuckpoint, because bats can squeeze into spaces as thin as a pencil size. They’ll seal those up and put caps on them so the bats can’t come in, or birds, or anything else that wants to get in there.
ABC Humane Wildlife Control & Prevention